The State Council decided on June 1, which was International Children’s Day, to introduce new measures to better protect vulnerable children in China.
The decision was made during a State Council executive meeting presided over by Premier Li Keqiang.
“Children living in extremely difficult circumstances need special care and protection,” Premier Li emphasized at the meeting. “The government should work to build a safety net to better protect them.”
Premier Li was referring to children who endure harsh living conditions because of poverty, health problems or lack of parental custody or who have been abducted. Major problems that these children face include severe poverty and a lack of medical treatment and education.
A document circulated at the meeting introduced specific requirements for central ministries and local governments to provide comprehensive assistance to these children.
Such efforts will include providing financial aid and special medical care coverage.
Local governments are urged to fully implement compulsory education and guarantee that children’s guardians fulfill their custodial responsibilities.
“Protecting children in difficult conditions is an important part of our efforts to build a moderately prosperous society, as well as a social safety net that leaves no one unprotected,” Premier Li said.
He also said the government needs to fulfill its duty to protect children in difficulty, and must further improve and revise legislation and policies in this regard.
Increasing subsidies and providing better protection for vulnerable children were put forth by the premier in the Government Work Report he delivered in March last year. During the meeting on June 1, he also called for social efforts to create a good environment that offers more protection and care for such children.
The new document, an update of a version released in 2014, also calls for nongovernmental efforts in conjunction with governments’ work to protect children.
The meeting also decided that a free, 12-year education through high school will be provided to children with disabilities from poor families. The country now offers a free, nine-year compulsory education, for elementary and middle school, for all children.
According to the Children’s Welfare Institute at Beijing Normal University, the nation has at least 570,000 vulnerable children, 91 percent of whom are without parental custody because their mother left them to remarry after their father died.
Since 2013, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has carried out a pilot program in 50 counties and county-level cities, such as Kunshan in Jiangsu province, with the aim of establishing a universal welfare system for children.
“The measures indicated China has made progress in children’s care, as the welfare has expanded from basic needs of food and accommodations to educational services, which may help these children in looking for a job when they grow up,” said Tao Chuanjin, a researcher at the China Philanthropy Research Institute.
The meeting also decided to improve the process by which governments buy services from social organizations to provide these children with such care as psychological counseling.
How to improve services is the key, because of a lack of professionals and specialized institutes offering assistance, said Guan Xinping, a professor of child research at Nankai University.